European Vacation: Safari Through The Salt Mines

May 30, 2007

Katelyn Bishop

This morning, we visited the beautiful Kopalina Soli Wieliczka, or the Wieliczka Salt Mines. We started out at ground level and journeyed down below the ground about 400 steps or 60 meters (200 feet). At this point, we were told that the mine was a total of nine levels deep (level 8 and level 9 are no longer accessible) and that the mine was over 1,000 feet deep. However, we would only be seeing the first three levels on our two-hour tour. We were also told that the mine is no longer in use because mining salt is no longer profitable. A mining accident where fresh water burst through the tunnels of the lower levels killed several miners in the accident a few years ago. Other miners were killed when it was discovered that methane collects in the mines, and the miners' torches caused several explosions. We were also guaranteed that the mine is very safe. It is now well-ventilated with lots of lighting.

We walked through amazing and beautiful chambers that had been hand carved by the miners themselves from the salt deposits. Some of the carvings dated back as far as 700 years. Each chamber consisted one or many intricate sculptures done by the pervious miners.

After viewing a total of seven chambers, our journey continued even deeper. We stopped briefly at this point at a depth of 91 meters (300 feet) where a chapel was constructed and decorated with a cross that was over 300 years old. It is said that the salt in the mines does a wonderful job of preserving wooden objects including the supports that continue to hold up the ceilings. It was a few steps later that we entered an extremely grand and breathtaking chamber which was another chapel called St. Kinga's Chapel. It was built to honor St. Kinga, the saint and protector of salt miners. It was also constructed as a place for worship and prayer. The miners were quite religious knowing that they were doing very dangerous work. This chapel had many amazing carvings on the wall, but it also had a gorgeous chandelier hanging from the ceiling made of salt! It is very hard for me to describe the awe of this chapel.

After the stop at the chapel, we witnessed the first of three underground salt lakes. Now 100 meters below the surface (333 feet), we were told that our journey would take us a grand total of 136 meters (530 feet), and a distance of 2.2 kilometers through winding tunnels.

The most memorable part of the salt mine tour was Bethany (Johansen) and Diane (Copenhagen) licking the roof of the tunnel and later lifting up Alli (Dillon) so she could also get a quick taste as well. The other memorable moment was Nikki Allen calling her Dad from 530 feet below the earth...and yes...there was cell service down there.

Finally we packed nine people like sardines into the tiny lift about four by four feet. Upon our return to the hotel, we quickly finished our packing and boarded the bus to Nowy Sacz. When we arrived we quickly changed and had a meeting with the President (Mayor) of the city. He invited us into his beautiful building where we did a quick meet and greet with several dignitaries and sports federation officials. After that, we finished and headed to the gym for our match.

We played a team that was formerly the Division I champions in the Polish League. Their gym was packed and many people were wearing the home team's colors of blue and white. We sadly lost, 3-1, however the experience we gained from playing such a strong team, and in front of such a loud crowd, was amazing and valuable.

After the match we had a small party for us and our opponents with many different kinds of Polish foods. Then we were entertained by a magician who performed for us, we were served cake, then immediately went upstairs to pack for our long trip to Hungary in the morning.


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